I don’t know when it all got shit. I guess it would have been somewhere between now and the last century. Somewhere around where people used to write things because the wanted to write things, and where people wrote things because they’re trying to “grow an audience”.
I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula right now, and it’s a trudge. It’s like wading through mud that’s been laced with treacle. 420 pages of old-world repressed Victorianism dressed up as a horror novel. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved reading it. I don’t say these things to insult Dear Old Bram, I say these things to complement him. He wrote the book he wanted to write. Not the book he thought people wanted to read.
That’s when it all got a bit shit. Sometime after that.
Today, most people don’t read books. They certainly aren’t reading Dracula. Most people, when you ask them if they read, they say “Yeah”. But then you ask them what they last read, and they say “Twitter”. Reading isn’t a thing you do for fun. Reading isn’t a thing that you do to read a story. It’s a thing you do to get information, or disinformation. It’s a thing you do because your boss sent you an email. It’s a thing you do because you got sent a letter from the bank.
That’s when it all got a bit shit. Sometime around then.
And I guess it’s something to do with the fact that social media has ruined our attention spans, where we can read 280 characters of a tweet and feel like we’ve learned something. I guess it was something to do with the Like button and how suddenly everything on the web could be ‘Liked’ and it made everything a race to the bottom. You can’t ‘Like’ a page in a book like Dracula. You don’t retweet the ending to Great Expectations.
That’s probably when it all got a bit shit. Sometime around then.
It might even just be something to do with the web in general. The whole thing. The whole idea of a website and it being accessible 24 hours a day and the fact you can look up anything you want wherever you are even if you’re in a pub quiz and you shouldn’t look it up but you can. You don’t need to remember anything any longer. You don’t need to remember what Val Kilmer’s first movie was. You don’t need to remember your mate’s telephone number. You don’t need to remember your own telephone number. All saved on the web, all ready for you to archive away and consult whenever you need it at a moment’s notice.
Maybe it’s something to do with that. Maybe that was when it all got a bit shit. Or maybe it wasn’t.
Sometimes I just think it’s me. Sometimes I just think that either I’m wrong or everybody else doesn’t care. Nobody else cares that you can’t search to the last page of Google any longer. Nobody cares that Google doesn’t even work any longer, that you have to use other search engines to get any decent results. Nobody else cares that social media has turned information on the web into walled gardens, so you have to have accounts to access it, the very anthesis of what the web was meant to be when Sir Tim Berners-Lee had his vision for the hyperlinked World Wide Web. The idea of a rich information source that would be accessible from anywhere. A research tool. Imagine somebody calling the web a research tool these days. You’d be laughed out of the building.
But, maybe it hasn’t all gotten a bit shit. Maybe it is just me.
But then I look around and think it probably isn’t just me. In early America, authors used to tour around town halls and deliver speeches to audiences that just used to sit and listen. Those audiences would sit and listen for seven hours and be able to pay attention. They would sit attentively as the speakers read from their books, so the speakers weren’t even enthralling speakers. Even then, people would still sit for seven hours as some writer just drone-read out of his book. For seven hours. I complained when the Batman movie with the Twilight guy in it lasted for over three hours. Early America had an attention span because they read books, and they read a lot of books.
That’s probably when it all got a bit shit. When people stopped reading books.
When people stopped visiting book shops. When people stopped sitting for seven hours to listen to somebody talk. When people started reading tweets and making Instagram posts and writing Facebook posts and making TikToks and MySpaces and Bebos and Google Waves and all of the other social media cons that I’ve forgotten.
When people started to think that the most important thing in the world was themselves. That’s when it got shit. When people thought that everybody cared what they thought on world politics. That’s when it got shit. When people thought that the world needed another podcast or a video game live stream or a tweet or a YouTube.
When people fooled themselves into thinking it was about them, all about them, and nothing but them.
Yeah. I think that’s when it all got a bit shit.